All of us are trying to figure out how water conditions — red tide, low tides, weather, winds, etc. — can help or hurt our fishing fun. We can’t control these conditions, but we can use them to our advantage many days.
First, we must identify. What are we looking at? Learn to read the water surface. Train your eyes to see any nervous water that will indicate fish movements. Look for activity: Birds diving, fish jumping, baitfish darting around, or anything moving.
Note the color and clarity of the water. Color can indicate health. Is the water a jewel-like green or milky? Is it the tone of weak tea or dark and dingy? Pale colors in clear water can indicate sand bars. Dramatically different colors indicate seams where two water flows meet. Weedlines can also help you discover these seams.
Points along the shore usually continue out into the water. Current moving over shallow waters will help you avoid running aground if you are attentive, but shallow spots can hide in the absence of waves or current movement.
Weather is always a big factor, especially for offshore fishing. Forecasts are best guesses, predicted by computers using models and algorithms. Weather folks are required to share the computer analysis, not their personal opinions. This protects them and their stations from lawsuits. Watch several forecasters that you have some faith in, then note forecasts north and south of you to make your own best guesses.
The movements of cold fronts can be totally unpredictable or very predictable, depending upon strength (stronger fronts reliably push other weather to the side and bull through). Winds and wind direction are critical considerations to factor in for safety and success.
Pre-frontal conditions can be windy, but the wind blows from the south and fish may appreciate the warmth. The longer and harder it blows, the more intense the change that’s coming. As the front approaches, winds begin to shift westerly and then harden down northwest as the front arrives.
That north wind is the cold and uncomfortable stuff. After frontal passage, winds usually shift northeast and skies clear up. We saw a good example of this last week. Warm fronts are usually weaker cold fronts backing up and can bring temperatures and humidity reminiscent of summer.
Observe the bands of rain and most of the time you can pick a slot between rain bands to work. Our phones can show us satellite and radar images, allowing us to find these windows of opportunity.
Always remember that weather can fool anyone, anytime. If you only have one day to play, be prepared for predicted conditions, then get up and make your call according to what it looks like. Always put safety first. If it looks too risky, call it off — there’ll be another day.
We have endured intermittent red tide challenges. No one can predict what it will do tomorrow or next week or three months from now. Educate yourself from real scientific sources, not just stuff you read on Facebook. No one has the power or ability to just stop or fix these problems.
For many years, we have allowed population growth without considering the impacts of adding more people. Now the bill has come due. We are going to need to stop feeding algae blooms to slow them down. It’s that simple — cut off the nutrients and it will die back! We must put it on a diet or deal with it.
Sometimes we can make a reasonable guess where red tide blooms will go based on tidal movements, wind speed and direction, etc. Frequently blooms clear up by the time you hear about them. Find reliable sources and check conditions before you decide to go or not. Often we can slip out and enjoy a good adventure while many are scared at home. Most local businesses are willing to work with you if we get tricked by conditions, unless we warned you against taking the trip first.
Tide movement and heights control when and where we and the fish can go. Personally, I like big tides. High water allows fish to explore around the bushes and oyster bars. Lowest tides concentrate fish in deeper holes. Local knowledge of fish patterns can deliver some impressive action in deeper holes on nor’easter low tides.
Warmer days allow waters to warm up and fish feed on the sunny grass flats. Cold, windy days send both of us into protected, warmer waters. Deeper water changes more slowly than shallow spots. Remember that fish are cold-blooded and slow down dramatically on chilly days — especially several frigid days in a row.
Many fish react differently to conditions. Open-water fish like mackerel don’t tolerate silty water. Redfish, on the other hand, like it. Many fish bunch up together on cold days. You can sometimes encounter several species in one spot if conditions are favorable there, but usually they segregate by species and by sizes. Trout react to temperature changes dramatically. Smaller trout are food for big trout, so they will not be together.
Awareness is a key factor that can always change your luck. Be aware of any movements on, in or above the waters. Activity by water birds indicates fish activity. They feed on the same foods! Constantly scan the area for better catching and safety. It’s amazing we don’t have more accidents with so much boating activity.
The better you understand conditions, the more you can enhance your experiences. This isn’t rocket science — it’s just making observations and then applying them when similar situations arise. Anyone can do it with a little effort. Catch ‘em up.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.